Bridging the Divide: Why Commercial Fishing and Agriculture Must Partner for a Sustainable Future

Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations

In a world where sustainable food production is more critical than ever, we must reframe how we view U.S. food sources. For too long, commercial fishing and agriculture have been seen as disparate industries, yet both are crucial pillars of our domestic food system and cornerstones of our American heritage.

Generations ago, farmers and fishermen worked together to feed our communities. This connection has weakened over time as policies have sometimes pitted us against each other. Over the years, PCFFA has been involved in some of these conflicts, particularly over water rights in Northern and Central California.

However, times are changing, and as PCFFA evolves, it’s time to shift our strategies and to focus on climate-resilient domestic food production and seek opportunities to collaborate with land-based food producers.

Overlooked Contributions: The Role of Commercial Fishermen in Food Security

Like farming and ranching, commercial fishing is an important way of life, supporting families and sustaining local economies. Without commercial fishing, our port infrastructure and coastal economies collapse, creating a ripple effect nationwide.

 There is also a deep cultural connection to fishing that spans generations, much like the connection our farming friends have to the land. PCFFA is committed to elevating the important conservation, cultural and food-producing contributions of West Coast commercial fishermen and protecting our ability to continue making those contributions for generations to come.

 U.S commercial fishermen are often overlooked in food production discussions. When we think of food, farmers and ranchers typically come to mind, while fishing is often considered a hobby and seafood is viewed as a luxury.

 However, food security isn’t limited to land; oceans cover over 70% of the Earth’s surface and highly regulated U.S. fisheries can sustainably produce substantial amounts of healthy protein. Yet, our fishing fleets are disappearing because they can’t make a living, and Americans aren’t consuming enough seafood.

Addressing the Seafood Consumption Gap – Prioritizing Domestic Seafood

Only 10% to 20% of Americans meet the federal dietary guidelines of 8-12 ounces of seafood per week. A 2022 Government Accounting Office (GAO) report noted that seafood purchases by the USDA’s National School Lunch Program accounted for only 1.5% of total animal protein, providing students with just three ounces of seafood per year. That’s despite USDA recommendations of 4-10 ounces per week.

This disconnect is concerning. Why aren’t we prioritizing more consumption of domestically harvested seafood? American commercial fishermen should be feeding the nation alongside farmers and ranchers. We should focus on maximizing U.S. resources rather than relying on imports that contribute to climate change and often fail to meet our conservation and human rights standards.

 It should be a national priority to ensure that U.S. consumers always have access to wild, healthy, American seafood harvested responsibly and sustainably and put on their plates with a much lower carbon footprint than imports.

We can’t continue to allow food producers with generations of history to crumble under crippling regulations that claim to protect the environment while incentivizing cheaper subsidized imports that fail to meet our U.S. conservation and human rights standards. U.S. ocean resources are healthy and sustainable, yet our fishermen are disappearing as imported seafood dominates U.S. markets.

 According to NOAA, over 90% of the seafood now consumed in the U.S. is imported. This is unacceptable on every level. PCFFA is committed to bringing attention to this issue and working with our ag partners to increase support for domestic food production for agriculture and fisheries. We will continue collaborating with fishing organizations around the country through Seafood Harvesters of America and others to create the necessary change to protect our heritage and provide food to our nation.

Advocacy for Federal Program Access

One way that we can work together with agriculture is in advocating for equal access to federal programs. The U.S. Farm Bill is making its way through the 118th Congress and seafood producers, along with legislators, have been working to ensure the inclusion of seafood priorities in the final language. This would recognize seafood as a critical component of the U.S. food system and ensure that American seafood producers have access to federal programs administered by the USDA.

Farm Bill Key Recommendations

The U.S. commercial seafood sector has united around several key recommendations:

 (1) Create an Office of Seafood Policy and Program Integration in the USDA Office of the Chief Economist: Proposed in Section 5 of Sen. Dan Sullivan’s National Seafood Supply Act of 2023 (S. 2208), this office would provide a dedicated point of entry for the seafood sector at USDA, coordinating with other agencies to support both wild and farmed seafood as part of the domestic supply chain.

(2) Promote Greater Seafood Procurement Across USDA Nutrition Programs: Enhance the presence of seafood in USDA nutrition programs, similar to past initiatives that boosted whole grain products and pulse crops.

(3) Extend Eligibility for USDA Grants and Loans to Seafood Producers: Legislative proposals, including those from Sen. Lisa Murkowski (S. 2354) and Sen. Sullivan (S. 2208), seek to make USDA financial support programs accessible to seafood producers, addressing market challenges and improving supply-chain resilience.

A Vision for a Unified Future

PCFFA is dedicated to supporting efforts to include these seafood priorities in the Farm Bill, raising awareness about the importance of commercial fishing and educating consumers on the healthy, renewable food resources in U.S. waters. We will continue to push legislators to recognize the importance of commercial fishing and support policies that promote domestic food production and conservation goals without sacrificing economic opportunities and access to healthy seafood for our communities.

The time has come to break down the silos between land and sea food production. By viewing agriculture and commercial fishing as partners in food production, we can build a more resilient and sustainable food system. By supporting our local family fishermen and farmers, we can incentivize more consumption of U.S.-produced foods, reduce the carbon footprint associated with long-distance food transportation and uphold the values our country was built on.

Finding new avenues of cooperation between fishing and farming families can serve both in many ways. We have to believe that together we can ensure that the bounty that springs from both land and sea continues to nourish us for generations to come.   

Lisa Damrosch is the executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA) and comes from a fourth-generation commercial fishing family working from Half Moon Bay, Calif. She can be reached at the Southwest Regional PCFFA office at P.O. Box 29370, San Francisco, CA 94129-0370, or at The phone number for the office is (650) 209-0801.